Rain in the Fitbit Miami Marathon? This elite local runner has been through far worse

Marathoner Johanna Butler runs in Kennedy Park. Photo by Michael Reeves.
Marathoner Johanna Butler runs in Kennedy Park. Photo by Michael Reeves.

Johanna Butler won’t fret if the projected downpour soaks her to the bone beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday in the 17th annual Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon.

She won’t complain if the 15- to 20-mile-an hour wind gusts knock her around a bit on the MacArthur or Venetian Causeways.

She’s fine with sunshine and blue skies, too.

Butler, who last April endured Boston Marathon temperatures in the mid 30s, headwinds gusting to 35 miles an hour and steady, ice-cold sheets of rain that at times struck horizontally, is just happy to be alive and thriving after overdosing on medication and ending up at Mercy Miami Hospital in early November 2015.

She wanted to escape her depression, “just sleep it off and not have to embrace the world for a couple days,’’ Butler said in a video she made a year later with her husband, Rusty. “I really didn’t want to die, but I wanted to escape so badly. I just wanted to escape my brain.’’

The 5-10, 127-pound, 27-year-old Ransom Everglades track coach who relocated to Miami from Arkansas in 2015, is now a fit and happy elite athlete who will join a combined Miami Marathon and Half Marathon field of about 20,000 on Sunday for the start on Biscayne Boulevard outside AmericanAirlines Arena.

Her goal: to finish the 26.2 miles of the full marathon in 2 hours 45 minutes or faster so she can qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29, 2020. Butler finished Boston, her fourth marathon since she began distance running in 2016, as the 62nd overall female in 2:58:48.

“That’s the ultimate goal,’’ Butler told the Miami Herald regarding the Olympic Trials. “But I also know there’s a lot of work between now and then, so I think a lot of it has been motivated by the possibility of what my limits are. Eventually I would love — whether it’s at the Olympics or at another global level — to wear the letters USA on my jersey.’’

The marathon forecast will be challenging. It calls for temperatures starting before sunrise in the mid 60s with a 90-percent chance of rain and rising a few degrees by 9 a.m. with continued rain. Winds, when not gusting, are expected to range from 10- to 14-miles-an hour, with temperatures reaching the low 70s during thunderstorms when the course is broken down at 2 p.m.

“Weather is significant,’’ Butler said. “But the great thing is that we start early enough so it shouldn’t get too hot. I’d rather it rain because it keeps things cooler. Wind is a little nerve-racking but you train in Miami and get used to running in the wind on the causeways.

“You can’t control race weather. If you’re from here you train in a lot of crazy weather days.’’

Miami Marathon
Thousands of runners participate in the Miami Marathon under cold and wet conditions on Jan. 29, 2017. The marathon had a new title sponsor, Fitbit, for the 2018 race. CARL JUSTE cjuste@miamiherald.com

Or, as race co-founder and chief running officer Frankie Ruiz says, “One thing we can always tell people is that it won’t snow in Miami.”

“I have throughout the years tried my best not to obsess over the weather on race day,’’ Ruiz said. “Most of these runners didn’t wait for perfect days to do their training. If that was the case, we’d never run.’’

Ruiz always suggests that runners bring makeshift garbage-bags-turned-ponchos and some anti-chafing lubricant to protect their feet from blisters. A dry set of clothes to store at gear check is also helpful.

The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, produced by Life Time, is regarded among the most scenic in the nation. It begins at the arena, heads toward Miami Beach over the MacArthur Causeway, through South Beach along Ocean Drive, past the Miami Beach Convention Center, over the majestic Venetian Causeway and back into Miami where the half marathon finishes and the full marathon continues into the Brickell and Coconut Grove areas before returning to the finish.

Marathoner Johanna Butler, who lives in Miami, is shown training. Photo by Michael Reeves. Michael Reeves

Other than Florida, New York leads the U.S. contingent with more than 1,000 registered. Colombia has the largest contingent of international runners, also with more than 1,000, followed by Mexico’s 600-plus and Canada’s 300-plus.

“We’ve marketed ourselves to Latin America in a manner that has begun to show results,’’ Ruiz said. “It’s nice because no other city in this country outside of arguably New York, has a race that is so reflective of its own population. You don’t have too many places where there are loads of Colombians and Venezuelans and Costa Ricans and Brazilians, so to me it’s important that the race reflects that.’’

Butler, who has been running since she was a youngster and got elevation training in Boulder, Colorado from August through October, works as a private online coach through her company simplynaturalfitness.com. She also writes a blog, and started a 100-member strong nondenominational Christian church — Miami Church (miamichurch.com) — that meets in Coconut Grove on the top floor of a two-story building. She graduated with a degree in kinesiology from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

She’ll be pushed Sunday by American Meta Haley, who was just ahead of her at Boston with a 2:58:48 marathon in those horrendous conditions, as well as by USA contenders Kate Landau (eighth last October in the Chicago Marathon in 2:33:24), Rachel Schilkowsky (2018 Hartford Marathon winner in 2:41:02) and Shannon Bain (2:45:24 best).

The men’s field will include 2018 Miami Marathon runner-up Teklu Deneke of Ethiopia (2:23:39, with a 2:12:05 marathon best). Among the men’s international field Sunday will be competitors from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Italy.

The male and female winners will each earn $4,500, with $2,000 going to the runners-up and $1,000 going to the third-place finishers. Masters and wheelchair racers also can earn prize money.

More than 14,000 men and women are expected in the 13.1-mile half marathon, which also awards prize money, and which Butler ran last year.

“I did it just for fun,’’ she said, noting that her 1:33 finish “wasn’t great’’ in extremely windy and humid conditions.

This year, despite the projected weather, she’s motivated by that USA emblem.

“Qualifying for Boston really kept my mind positive and kept me goal oriented and focused on something big,’’ she said. “I want to see how far I can take my body. I’m just going to embrace whatever comes my way.’’


What, When, Where: Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon begins at 6 a.m. Sunday on Biscayne Boulevard in front of AmericanAirlines Arena.

Who: More than 20,000 registered.

Registration: $170 for full marathon and $155 for half and $55 for Tropical 5K during the expo through 6 p.m .Saturday.

Expo: Mana Wynwood Convention Center, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami, 33127. Hours are noon to 7 p.m Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Fitbit Tropical 5K: 7:30 am. at Miami Children’s Museum, 980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami, 33132.

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.